Updated at 9:23 a.m. on November 9.
The tight lid that was kept on former President George W. Bush’s new memoir, Decision Points, fueled enough speculation and hunts for leaked copies that the book will contain few surprises when it officially debuts today. The Drudge Report started the leaking frenzy with highlights last week that included notes about Bush’s friendship with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, his reaction to hearing that United Airlines Flight 93 had gone down on 9/11, and a note from Nancy Reagan asking that Bush consider the medical advances made possible by stem cell research.
The former president kicked off his book tour with an interview Monday night with NBC's Matt Lauer. MSNBC had been teasing the interview all day, heavily airing a clip of Lauer talking to Bush about his decision to commute the sentence of former Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby rather than pardon him for his conviction on perjury and obstruction of justice charges in the CIA leak case.
The interview will no doubt probe further into Bush’s discussion of the war in Iraq — especially his admission that he has “a sickening feeling” when he thinks about his administration’s failure to uncover weapons of mass destruction — and some of the mistakes he says he made when handling the Hurricane Katrina disaster.
The book on the whole is heavy on how personalities affected policy debates but light on a lot of detail. Here are some notable tidbits that might not make headlines:
- Bush says he attempted but failed to mediate debates between Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell, who Bush characterized as “a pair of old duelers who kept their own pistols in their holsters, but let their seconds and thirds fire away.”
- Leon Kass, a physician, philosophy professor at the University of Chicago and later the chair of Bush’s presidential bioethics council, was ultimately responsible for solidifying Bush’s position on stem cell research. Bush details the myriad advice he received about the decision but ultimately relied on Kass’s guidance to take his final stance.
- The president believed he could have avoided some of the legal setbacks and controversy surrounding his efforts to monitor terrorists and close the prison at Guantanamo Bay by seeking legislation on military tribunals, the Terrorist Surveillance Program and CIA interrogation techniques as they were created rather than relying on executive authority.
- According to the book, the infamous “Mission Accomplished” banner aboard the USS Lincoln when Bush gave his speech about the end of combat operations in Iraq was not his doing, but was rather meant for the crew of the aircraft carrier. He maintains he didn’t even notice the banner during his speech. Bush famously landed on the carrier in a jet wearing a flightsuit.
- Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had ordered the killing of Bush's daughters, Barbara and Jenna Bush, as revenge for the death of his own two sons during the U.S. invasion.
- Bush writes that he believed his Social Security and immigration reform legislation would have been more successful if he had pursued them in the opposite order; he thinks the intense opposition to Social Security privatization colored the later immigration debate.
- A way to make government more productive, the former president suggests, would be to have nonpartisan elders draw congressional districts instead of state legislatures.
- Then-Republican Senate Whip Mitch McConnell asked Bush to bring some troops home from Iraq in advance of the 2006 midterm elections in order to increase the popularity of the Republican Party. Rather than withdraw troops Bush added additional forces in what came to be known as the surge.
- In what sounds like yet another twist in the Middle East where peace might have been achieved but fell apart at the last minute, Bush reveals a heretofore unknown story about the Palestinian and Israeli leaders. During the 2008 peace talks between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Olmert offered Abbas a secret agreement in which Israel would return most of the territory in the West bank and Gaza to the Palestinians, accept construction of a tunnel connecting the two territories, allow a small number of Palestinian refugees to return to Israel and establish Jerusalem as a joint capital with holy sites controlled by a panel of nonpolitical elders. Abbas was supposed to announce that he accepted the plan, but the deal fell apart when Olmert was forced to resign after discovery of his questionable financial dealings as mayor of Jerusalem. Abbas did not want to make an agreement with a prime minister on his way out of office, Bush writes.